Armitage Gone! Dance

March 4, 2009

Armitage Gone! Dance
March 4–14, 2009

The Kitchen, NYC

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Photo by Paula Court. Luke Manley and Megumi Eda in
The Watteau Duets, the most intriguing 1980s work in Armitage’s “Think Punk!” retrospective.

Karole Armitage, the punk ballerina, is back. The choreographer returned to New York several years ago, but until the recent revivals of three works from the ’80s in a program called “Think Punk!”, many viewers hadn’t actually seen the work that defined Armitage early on. In addition, her company performed Mashup, a premiere reportedly inspired by the philosophy of Guy Debord. The program made for an interesting evening of both good and bad nostalgia, and summoned a renewed appreciation for Armitage’s current work.

After dancing for the Balanchine-based Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève and Merce Cunningham’s company, Armitage began choreographing, combining a punk aesthetic with ballet to shoot for the gut punch of rock. Drastic-Classicism (1981) embodies rock’s deafening volume, rebellion, and go-for-broke attitude. Eleven dancers mix among four guitarists and a drummer, who enter and leave at intervals, playing Rhys Chatham’s tsunami of noise. Armitage is fond of a beautiful line, and her skilled dancers oblige with split arabesques and dramatic partnered poses. They pause between moves as if coiling to release with even greater force. The sheer volume alone (we were given cotton balls for our ears) demands a mixture of suffering and qualified respect, as one might give a bully. It also conjures the hard edges of the ’80s, an unsubtle decade of extremes and confrontation.

Wild Thing
(1987) is a brief dance with one extended visual punchline—Jeff Koons’ giant heart shaped box that opens first to reveal a clutch of silver balloons and then Leonides Arpon, who partners a writhing Dana Marie Ingraham in a fringe-trimmed unitard. In The Watteau Duets (1985), the most intriguing of the resurrected works, Giorgia Bovo and Matthew Prescott flirt through coy looks and ballet, impressing one another with a fancy move or an irresistible line. Between movements, they change costumes behind wheeled crates as the band of two (playing David Linton’s score) noodles around, behaving like overgrown children. Bovo—after passages in head-to-toe black with leather accessories, rehearsal clothes, and a sleek bandeau tank (costumes by Charles Atlas and Peter Speliopolous)—eventually ends up in four-inch stiletto pumps, introducing an element of actual danger, and takes a bow in a leather tutu. Armitage’s early work contains moments of humor and casualness, but it is more often serious and lacking in irony.

In an excerpt from her most recent piece, Mashup, percussionist Daniel Shea sits in the first row, rendering Daniel Iglesia’s mix of Mozart and X-Ray Spex. In loose scarlet tops and shorts, lit by Clifton Taylor (as was the rest of the show), the dancers occupy the entire stage, now band-less. They show Armitage’s continuing fondness for elongated line in unfettered extensions. The new choreography grants them an awareness—to simply relish the joyful movement or appreciate their partners—rather than applying a veneer of rebellion and confronting us with it. As it did decades ago, Armitage’s choreography suits the time.